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March 29, 2009 at 11:05 AM

Morrow’s starting days done — for good

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UPDATE 1:35 p.m.: Meant to update you in this earlier, but the M’s have acquired Chris Burke from the Padres for cash considerations. He spent parts of five seasons with the Astros and will provide insurance — likely from Class AAA — for the big-league club at several infield and outfield spots.
Big news out of camp. Moments ago, I spoke to Brandon Morrow after he’d thrown a bullpen session and he told me (and Shannon Drayer and Tim Booth of AP) that he plans to be a full-time closer from now on. Not just this month, not just this season. For good.
“I feel good about it,” he said. “I feel back home.”
Wow. This is a major development. As if to hammer that home, the M’s just released relief pitcher Tyler Walker. Walker had been one of the guys vying for the closer’s job.
Apparently, Morrow made the decision more than a week ago.That explains the whole cloak-and-dagger routine with manager Don Wakamatsu, who inadvertently spilled the beans a little early to reporters before later clarifying his comments. In fact, if you go back and listen to the tape of Wakamatsu’s comments, it was clear he was talking about using Morrow out of the bullpen to start the season. If it appears we’ve been a little dogged about this story, it’s because it was obvious a week ago that something major was up.
Morrow said the team just wanted to see him get out and throw a few times first, before announcing the final decision. Now that he’s done it — which explains why he’s worked out of the stretch so much his first couple of times out — there’s no need for caution anymore. Also, the decision by Morrow, as we saw with Walker’s release, was going to impact some other bullpen arms and the team did not want to spell it out for them in public until they were absolutely certain Morrow was ready.
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For context purposes, as always when we can, here is some Morrow audio starting from where I asked him what caused him to make such a momentus decision.
“Once they traded J.J., I thought, I kept going back and forth and back and forth,” he said. “Two or three weeks before I came to them with it, it’s really kind of been just weighing on me. I just felt like a big relief when I went back to the bullpen because I feel that’s like my home now. I’ve been there two years and I don’t know if I could go back.”
This is, obviously, a major development on the closer front. When I wrote yesterday that the team was probably leaning away from going with Morrow as the closer — looking at more of a middle relief or setup role — I assumed he still wanted to be a starter. Turns out, that’s no longer in his plans or the team’s. Morrow isn’t coming back to the bullpen to be a setup man. He wants to be a top-flight closer.
“There are a lot of guys competing for closing right now and I haven’t thrown too many innings,” he said. “So, I’m not going to jump right in and be the closer, closer. But there will be chances for everybody and I think things are going to work themselves out.”
So, his legacy as a No. 1 pick will be decided out of the bullpen. No more comparisons to Tim Lincecum. As you heard above, Morrow told me what influenced his decision was, clearly, the trade of J.J. Putz to the Mets back in December. That got his brain turning. But later, once camp came, he had concerns about his diabetes and controlling his blood sugar levels as a starter. Both factors played into his final decision, though the diabetes less so.
“I had troubles with low blood sugars a lot last year,” Morrow said of his starting experiences in 2008. “Especially warming up. And this year as well, the only game I started I was a little low to begin with.”
Hear some audio on this right here.
Morrow says, when all is said and done, his arm is simply better suited to relieving.
As for what happens from here, I’d say Ryan Rowland-Smith goes to the starting rotation and Miguel Batista becomes that short/long relief bullpen swing-man Wakamatsu talked about early last week, Before Morrow opted to return full-time, I’d still say Batista was the odds-on closer candidate in a field that hasn’t shown much, But now that we know Morrow’s and the team’s true intentions, they have to maximize Batista’s value somehow. And he can throw either long or short, that much we know. No sense hampering RRS’s development as a starter when Batista can fill a dual bullpen role. Stay tuned.



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